ALM editor in chief Aric Press ()

What makes rainmakers different? What do they have that other lawyers don’t? The easy answer: They have clients. But, as a developing body of research is showing, they also have tendencies that make business development come as naturally to them as, say, being critical does to their partners.

The latest report comes from Lawyer Metrics, an analytics company founded by William Henderson, the Indiana University law professor. Called simply “The Rainmaking Study,” it’s an effort to identify client-magnet traits. In the modern era this work began roughly a dozen years ago, when Larry Richard, a lawyer turned psychologist and now consultant, published an insightful essay on the personality characteristics found in rainmakers. His work identified three traits—ego drive, empathy and resilience—that were found more often in rainmakers than in service partners.

The Lawyer Metrics study rests on an analysis of 300 personality assessments of both rainmakers and client service partners, which was bolstered by 85 in-depth interviews. The paper concluded that rainmakers had higher propensities to seek dominance, become consumed by their work and effectively manage teams, and that they possessed an enhanced taste for risk-taking (compared to other lawyers). According to Monique Drake and Evan Parker-Stephen, the authors of the study, lawyers with those attributes “are more likely, as a statistical matter, to develop a strong client following.”

Now a skeptic might say that nearly all partners in big firms are consumed by their work or, for the most part, will shy away from risk. True. What this study finds, according to Parker-Stephen, is that on work engagement, for instance, “all partners score highly. But rainmakers score higher than the others.” And on risk, the rainmakers were, compared to average Americans, risk-averse. They were just less risk-averse than their client service partners.

Drake has seen the rainmaker difference in her career and sympathizes with those lawyers for whom biz dev doesn’t come easily. Before she joined Lawyer Metrics as director of lawyer development, she was a litigation partner at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. She says that while she was able to develop business there, she saw others “who really loved that aspect of practice. I wouldn’t put myself in that category.” In contrast, rainmakers were “intensely and internally driven to develop business. They didn’t have to force themselves to do it. They’d characterize client development as all wrapped up in their work. The nonrainmakers talked about client development as something to fit in to their days, not something they relished. It was more of a burden.”

Most lawyers aren’t natural rainmakers; Richard estimates that only 20 percent might fit that description. But there’s hope for many of the others. Parker-Stephen points out that individual rainmakers tend to score highly on only two or three of the characteristics he’s identified, but also that there’s a subset of client service partners (CSPs) who score like rainmakers: On the personality tests, one-third score above the rainmaker means for dominance and engagement; one-half on motivating others; and about one-fifth on risk taking. “In short,” says Parker-Stephen, “the analysis indicates that a fair number of CSPs already have attributes that are associated with rainmaking. Moreover, many CSPs—not only those who score above the rainmaker means—may be natural candidates for coaching to help them develop the traits most associated with rainmaking.”

All of which suggests that firms are well advised to expose all their lawyers to business development training. Everyone deserves a shot to develop their innate talents or demonstrate a will to acquire them. Part of that training, were it done wisely, would include personality assessments of the sort that Richard and Lawyer Metrics advocate. Firms know what to do with the naturals. But don’t consign the others to the ice floes; once the rainmaking is done, someone has to do the work. Plus, these are the lawyers in touch with the clients, the best intelligence a firm could have on their customers. Don’t ask them to sell; ask them to listen. Ignore the hand-wringing: these folks need encouragement, not exit strategies.